Sorting Components module

Spike sorting is comprised of several steps, or components. In the spikeinterface.sortingcomponents module we are building a library of methods and steps that can be assembled to build full spike sorting pipelines.

This effort goes in the direction of modularization of spike sorting algorithms. Currently, spike sorters are shipped as full packages with all the steps needed to perform end-to-end spike sorting.

However, this might not be the best option. It is in fact very likely that a sorter has an excellent step, say the clustering, but another step is sub-optimal. Decoupling different steps as separate components would allow one to mix-and-match sorting steps from different sorters.

Another advantage of modularization is that we can accurately benchmark every step of a spike sorting pipeline. For example, what is the performance of peak detection method 1 or 2, provided that the rest of the pipeline is the same?

For now, we have methods for:
  • peak detection

  • peak localization

  • peak selection

  • motion estimation

  • motion correction

  • clustering

  • template matching

For some of theses steps, implementations are in avery early stage and are still a bit drafty. Signature and behavior may change from time to time in this alpha period development.

You can also have a look spikeinterface blog where there are more detailled notebooks on sorting components.

Peak detection

Peak detection is usually the first step of spike sorting and it consists of finding peaks in the traces that could be actual spikes.

Peaks can be detected with the detect_peaks() function as follows:

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.peak_detection import detect_peaks

job_kwargs = dict(chunk_duration='1s', n_jobs=8, progress_bar=True)

peaks = detect_peaks(
    recording, method='by_channel',

The output peaks is a numpy array with a length of the number of peaks found and the following dtype:

peak_dtype = [('sample_ind', 'int64'), ('channel_ind', 'int64'), ('amplitude', 'float64'), ('segment_ind', 'int64')]

Different methods are available with the method argument:

  • ‘by_channel’ (default): peaks are detected separately for each channel

  • ‘locally_exclusive’: peaks on neighboring channels within a certain radius are excluded (not counted multiple times)

Peak detection, as many sorting components, can be run in parallel. Note that the ‘locally_exclusive’ method requires numba to be installed.

Peak localization

Peak localization estimates the spike location on the probe. An estimate of location can be important to correct for drifts or cluster spikes into different units.

Peak localization can be run using localize_peaks() as follows:

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.peak_localization import localize_peaks

job_kwargs = dict(chunk_duration='1s', n_jobs=8, progress_bar=True)

peak_locations = localize_peaks(recording, peaks, method='center_of_mass',
                                local_radius_um=150, ms_before=0.3, ms_after=0.6,

Currently, the following methods are implemented:

Theses methods are the same implemented in spikeinterface.toolkit.postprocessing.unit_localization

The output peak_locations is a 1d numpy array with a dtype that depends on the chosen method.

For instance, the ‘monopolar_triangulation’ method will have:

localization_dtype = [('x', 'float64'),  ('y', 'float64'), ('z', 'float64'), ('alpha', 'float64')]


By convention in spikeinterface, when a probe is describe in 2d
  • ‘x’ is the width of the probe

  • ‘y’ is the depth

  • ‘z’ is the orthogonal to the probe plane

Peak selection

When too many peaks are detected a strategy can be used to select (or sub-sample) only some of them before clustering. This is the strategy used by spyking-circus or tridesclous, for instance. Then, clustering is run on this subset of peaks, templates are extracted, and a template-matching step is run to find all spikes.

The way the peak vector is reduced (or sub-sampled) is a crutial step because units with small firing rate can be hidden by this process.

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.peak_detection import detect_peaks

many_peaks = detect_peaks(...)

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.peak_selection import select_peaks

some_peaks = select_peaks(many_peaks, method='uniform', n_peaks=10000)

Implemented methods are the following:

  • ‘uniform’

  • ‘uniform_locations’

  • ‘smart_sampling_amplitudes’

  • ‘smart_sampling_locations’

  • ‘smart_sampling_locations_and_time’

Motion estimation

Recently, drift estimation has been added in some the available spike sorters (Kilosort 2.5, 3) Especially for Neuropixels-like probes, this is crucials step.

Several methods have been proposed to correct for drifts, but only one is currently implemented in spikeinterface at the moment. See Decentralized Motion Inference and Registration of Neuropixel Data for more details.

The motion estimation step comes after peak detection and peak localization. The idea is to divide the recording in time bins and estimate the relative motion between temporal bins.

This method has two options:

  • rigid drift : one motion vector is estimated for the entire probe

  • non-rigid drift : one motion vector is estimated per depth bin

Here is an example with non-rigid motion estimation

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.peak_detection import detect_peaks
peaks = detect_peaks(recording, ...)

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.peak_localization import localize_peaks
peak_locations = localize_peaks(recording, peaks, ...)

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.motion_estimation import estimate_motion
motion, temporal_bins, spatial_bins,
            extra_check = estimate_motion(recording, peaks, peak_locations=peak_locations,
                                          direction='y', bin_duration_s=1., bin_um=10.,
                                          non_rigid_kwargs={'bin_step_um': 50},

In this example, because it is a non-rigid estimation, motion is a 2d array (num_time_bins, num_spatial_bins).

Motion correction

The estimated motion can be used to correct the motion, in other words, for drift correction. One possible way is to make an interpolation sample-by-sample to compensate for the motion. The CorrectMotionRecording is a preprocessing step doing this. This preprocessing is lazy, so that inperpolation is done the on-the-fly. However, the class needs the “motion vector” as input, which requires a relatively long computation (peak detection, localization and motion estimation).

Here is a short example the depends on the output of “Motion estimation”:

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.motion_correction import CorrectMotionRecording

recording_corrected = CorrectMotionRecording(recording_with_drift, motion, temporal_bins, spatial_bins)

Important note: currently, the borders of the probe in the y direction are NOT handled properly. Therefore, it is safer to remove channel on the border after this step. We plan to handle this directly in the class but this is NOT implemented yet. Use this class carefully.


The clustering step remains the central step of the spike sorting. Historically this step was separted into two distinct parts: feature reduction and clustering. In spikeinterface, we decided to regroup this two steps in the same module. This allows one to compute feature reduction on-the-fly and avoid long computations and storage of large features.

The clustering step takes the recording and detected (and optionally selected) peaks as input and returns a label for every peak.

At the moment, the implemenation is quite experimental. These methods have been implemented:

  • “position_clustering”: use HDBSCAN on peak locations.

  • “sliding_hdbscan”: clustering approach from tridesclous, with sliding spatial windows. PCA and HDBSCAN are run on local/sparse waveforms.

  • “position_pca_clustering”: this method tries to use peak locations for a first clustering step and then perform

further splits using PCA + HDBSCAN

Different methods may need different inputs (for instance some of them require need peak locations and some do not).

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.peak_detection import detect_peaks
peaks = detect_peaks(recording, ...)

from spikeinterface.sortingcomponents.clustering import find_cluster_from_peaks
labels, peak_labels = find_cluster_from_peaks(recording, peaks, method="sliding_hdbscan")
  • labels : contains all possible labels

  • peak_labels : vector with the same size as peaks containing the label for each peak

Template matching

Template matching is the final step used in many tools (kilosort, spyking-circus, yass, tridesclous, hdsort…)

In this step, from a given catalogue (or dictionnary) of templates (or atoms), the algorithms try to explain the traces as a linear sum of template plus a residual noise.

At the moment, there are four methods implemented:

  • ‘naive’: a very naive implemenation used as a reference for benchmarks

  • ‘tridesclous’: the algorithm for template matching implemented in tridesclous

  • ‘circus’: the algorithm for template matching implemented in spyking-circus

  • ‘circus-omp’: a updated algorithm similar to the spyking-circus one circus but with OMP (orthogonal macthing pursuit)

Very preliminary benchmarks suggest that:
  • ‘circus-omp’ is the most accurate, but a bit slow.

  • ‘tridesclous’ is the fastest and has very decent accuracy